I spent five months unemployed before I started my first civilian job and I wasn’t prepared for it at all. My plan was always to roll right into my next job, and I would have never believed that it would take me that long to start working again. I started planning my career transition a full year in advance to avoid this exact situation. How could this have happened to me?
No one ever told me that I should plan for this. Why would they? Up to that point, my career had been playing out perfectly. My peers who left the military before me were able to get on their feet quickly, or so I thought. The truth is, most service members experience a period of unemployment. It’s not ideal but it’s also not the end of the world. Here are a few things that surprised me about unemployment:
Unemployment is… kind of awesome.
For the first time in my adult life, I had all the time in the world to pursue things that I was interested in. I was worried that I would lose all forward momentum and live out my days watching Netflix in sweats. And while I did spend plenty of time doing just that, I also was able to tap into some new hobbies and energy that I didn’t have the space to enjoy before. I spent three weeks in Costa Rica, my first time traveling somewhere by myself. I met amazing people, ate incredible food, and practiced yoga twice a day. This experience in itself was worth the five-month detour/delay in my life plan. As a planner and all around go-getter, I was terrified at what havoc unemployment would wreak on my life plan but it was the perfect opportunity for me to relax, reset, and prepare myself for the next chapter in my journey.
Unemployment should still feel like work.
During unemployment, it is as important as ever to stick to a schedule. I did sleep in a lot but most days, I set a reasonable alarm and put in a fair amount of time working on job applications. I also peppered my schedule with networking events. These networking events were life savers because they required me to a) get dressed and b) talk with people in professional settings. They also allowed me to meet valuable local contacts which eventually panned out and turned into a job. As an unemployed person, you have all the freedom in the world to set your schedule which can be a blessing and a curse. By all means, ENJOY your time off but do what you can to stay disciplined and productive.
Unemployment can be really tough on your ego.
I am a person who receives a lot of satisfaction from work. I love the feeling of accomplishing something with a team, influencing the direction of a project, and being valued by my colleagues. These #feels are few and far between while you are unemployed. I had to constantly remind myself that there was a lesson to be learned in my unemployment. But here’s what I missed: my work doesn’t fully define me. Being unemployed doesn’t mean you are incompetent or that you can’t be successful outside of the military. The truth is, finding meaningful work that is a good fit is HARD and it takes TIME. All the planning in the world is not enough to make this happen according to your timeline. The important thing is to focus your efforts on what is within your span of control. This means using your time wisely and striking a healthy balance between relaxation and productivity. Laying on your couch all day, waiting for employers to knock on your door is probably not going to get you hired. Cranking through ten job applications per day is probably not going to get you hired. Your best approach is to network regularly and adopt a schedule that promotes self-care. Hang in there. It’s going to be okay.
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